Planning An Event For Seniors

August 16, 2020  |  by:

Planning an event for seniors requires some thoughtfulness to elevate the event from nice to exceptional. So let’s look at what to consider when planning for an older crowd.

Seniors at an event
Photo by Victoria Priessnitz

My parents are in their 70’s. They have a very active social life – before the pandemic I think they went out more than I did. It seems like almost every weekend they were at a wedding, a lecture, or a charity event. Though sometimes it was an anniversary party, a speaker’s lunch, or a graduation party.

Since we talk regularly, they always report back to me how the events were. As the years have gone on, most of the excitement about the event has been countered with a “but”, such as, 

“The hall was lovely, but the acoustics were terrible.”
“The speaker was fascinating, but I couldn’t see what she was presenting.” 
“I loved chatting with the people at my table, but felt like I couldn’t mingle because once I sat down it was so difficult to get back up.”

Events are designed with their target audience in mind. However, some audiences may be less catered to than others. While many events are designed to appeal to younger or middle-aged people, keep in mind that when your guests approach old age there are some extra details that you need to incorporate into your planning. Many of these tips are for a longer event, but some also apply to shorter ones. 

Consider Sensory Details When Planning An Event For Seniors

An elderly man at an event
Photo by Emmanuel

Don’t make it too dark

Either for ambiance or for a presentation, there are multiple reasons to keep the lights low. Planning an event for seniors, please don’t keep them too low. As we age, our eyesight gets worse. Though most seniors can see just fine in well-lit places, when it is dim, it gets much harder. Along those lines…

Bigger fonts and good contrast

This is also a design and branding issue, but please, please, please, don’t put a yellow script on a white background (see the section on Colors in A Practical Guide To An Effective Website For Your Event Business). Even for those of us who have decent vision, it can be hard to read. Also, consider using a font that is a bit bigger than your standard one or one that is simpler (see Typography in the same article). I learned to read and write in cursive. However, that was over 30 years ago. I am now in my 40’s and find it much harder to read than print. When text is easy to read your message will be clearer and easier to remember.

Have excellent sound technicians

You need someone who can solve the Goldilocks problem – not too loud, but not too soft. As we age, our hearing also starts to fade. So presentations, for example, need to be loud and clear. On the other hand, events that have music playing too loud can make it difficult for guests to have a conversation. Make sure your sound technicians have the ability to adjust the audio levels so guests can properly focus.

Easy on the salt and spices

“The food was too salty.” That is the most prevalent criticism of my mother whenever we eat out. And she is right, much of the time it is too salty. Many seniors have high blood pressure and are more sensitive to salt than they were when they were younger. So consider serving food that is more lightly salted at your event. Along those lines, make sure the food isn’t too spicy either. Of course, the food must have flavor, but choose foods that you can add heat to by an optional sauce.

Planning An Event For Seniors Requires Physical Thoughtfulness

Be aware of tripping hazards – especially stairs

When you get older, stairs become the enemy. I grew up in a house that had an open floor plan (before they were trendy). The family room, living room, and dining room were separated from the main hallway by two stairs that were each 3 inches high. As a kid, I thought that was great, they were lots of fun to play on. But at some point my parents got the floors redone and changed out the pair of steps for a single one that was 6 inches high. Their reasoning was that it was safer. While I didn’t believe them at the time, I do now, as I almost trip over those same stairs.

Most people expect to be walking on a flat surface. If there is a change of height it needs to be gradual or very well marked. If there are cables they need to be covered. Make sure that your guests can get around easily even if they are not looking directly at the ground.

Related article: 5 Questions to Ask on a Venue Walkthrough

Have enough seating – and at the right height

Some events seem to lack seating. This may be intentional because you want your participants to mingle, or due to space constraints – you can fit more people if they are standing rather than sitting. However, many people are less comfortable on their feet.

Bar stools and couches are great for younger attendees, but for those who are older, they can be difficult. It can be challenging climbing down from a high chair or getting up from a low couch. Having enough seating is something your attendees will remember.

The Event Timeline When Planning An Event For Seniors

Pace things slower

Don’t rush through your event. Don’t spend your time trying to get to the next thing. Keep the pace a bit slower to make sure that all of your attendees are on the same page. Having a slower pace will give your attendees more time to enjoy the present, rather than feeling like they are being pushed to what is next.

Make sure there are enough breaks

For longer events, have a break every 1.5-2.5 hours. Even though your event is exciting and interesting, it may be overwhelming. Make sure there are regular and frequent breaks that provide attendees enough time to use the restrooms, make a phone call, or have a snack.

Keep technology simple, but don’t treat them as stupid

Use the current technology, not the future technology (unless you are a tech company promoting your new product). Seniors tend to be more familiar with the technology that was around when they were in the workforce. For example, they may be comfortable with emails and text messages, but not with Slack. Make sure that the technology that you ask your participants to use is appropriate for both you and them.

Consideration Makes For An Impactful Event

You have probably already thought about how to cater to different demographics. But keeping these details in mind can be useful to your current plans in order to make older guests more comfortable.

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